04 October 2022
UNICEF Refugee Response Office in Poland
The situation Of the 1.2 million Ukrainian refugees registered by the Polish government, around 90 per cent are women and children. This mother-and-child displacement crisis is exerting extraordinary pressure on Poland’s public services, especially in healthcare given the specific needs of mothers, children and newborns. It’s vital those who’ve fled this brutal war have access to health care, including immunizations, advice on feeding their babies and young children, and mental health and psychosocial support. Low immunization rates in Ukraine mean that refugees are at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. Before the war Ukraine was already at a high risk of a polio outbreak, with only 55 per cent of Ukrainian children vaccinated against the disease. Meanwhile, low coverage of the measles vaccination, currently at 78 per cent, led to Ukraine having 47,000 measles cases in 2018, the largest outbreak in Europe. Children should be protected from vaccine preventable diseases no matter where they live. UNICEF/UN0705564/Strek UN0705564 UNICEF/UN0705564/Strek UN0705564 In emergencies, supporting the survival and development of children, especially newborns, becomes more challenging. More than 2,500 Ukrainian newborns have been delivered in Polish hospitals since the beginning of the crisis and they are a particularly at-risk group. Exclusive breastfeeding can prevent nearly 20 per cent of under-five child deaths, however less than 20 per cent of Ukrainian infants aged 0 to 5 months are exclusively breastfed. Those exposed to conflict, especially children, can suffer severe psychological consequences. Not addressing mental health issues can stall a child’s development and stop them participating meaningfully in society. Mental health and psychological support is therefore vital to help families heal from their invisible wounds of war. “Our husbands stayed behind. Our children are nervous; they shake and are scared because of what they have seen and heard. Children should never see such things. They should never be in a war.” Alona from Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Mother now in Łodz, Poland with her children. The solution UNICEF’s Emergency Response Office in Poland is focused on preventing disease outbreaks, helping refugees gain access to health care and promoting exclusive breastfeeding. Vaccinations are essential to protecting both Ukrainian and Polish children and families against preventable diseases. UNICEF is promoting the safety of immunization and its importance to children’s health in Poland and ensuring there are sufficient supplies of critical vaccinations. So far, UNICEF has procured 50,000 polio and 5,000 Hepatitis A vaccines, as well as 50,000 syringes to support vaccination campaigns. We're currently sourcing extra doses of BCG, Hepatitis B and MMR vaccines. “I believe that vaccination is important for children, for the entire population of the country. I think even during the war, we shouldn’t stop, because dangerous diseases are still nearby.” Kateryna, mother of two from Kiyv region, now living in Poland. Safe water and sanitation is also crucial to preventing diseases like diarrhoea and cholera, which can be deadly. Since the early days of the crisis, UNICEF has been distributing WASH and dignity kits, which include basics like soap, and water containers. We're also partnering with the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health on disease surveillance so we can respond immediately to prevent outbreaks. UNICEF/UN0647603/Korta UN0647603 UNICEF/UN0647603/Korta UN0647603 Linking refugees to health care is another priority and we're working hard to provide families with both the information they need as well as access to appropriate services. We're particularly focused on reaching children with disabilities and mothers and children in need of mental health support. We’re also providing health kits with essential medicines and medical devices to Polish clinics, to help ensure they have enough supplies to treat the large numbers of new patients. Finally, we’re encouraging mothers to exclusively breastfeed and sharing knowledge on how best to feed their babies and young children as they adapt to life in a new country. Trainings on exclusive breastfeeding and infant and young child feeding are being rolled out to 500 health workers in hospitals and 120 staff working in Blue Dot support hubs and we’re establishing lactation groups in 10 maternity wards. UNICEF will also partner with the Ministry of Health to control the distribution of formula to make sure it is safe for babies.